COMMENT | The issue of our rights and responsibilities as women in Islam has often been distorted and become a subject of grave misunderstanding. This is partly due to the misinterpretation of Islamic teachings perpetuated by misogyny and patriarchy.
Islamic laws are derived from the Quran, which is often regarded as the words of Allah and the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) based on his deeds and endorsements.
However, over the past several years, we have witnessed how certain laws have been upheld with a preference that contradicts basic human rights and common decency.
The recent survey conducted by Sisters in Islam’s (SIS) legal service, Telenisa, sheds some light on the distressing situation currently faced by a number of Muslim women in our country.
According to Telenisa, 47 percent of its clients have sought fasakh (a method of divorce sanctioned in Islam which is initiated by the wife). While some of these causes range from infidelity, lack of communication, polygamy, to substance abuse and so on, the alarming increase in cases that cite domestic violence as a reason for fasakh is extremely worrying.
In 2016, 107 cases were recorded compared with 27 in 2015, citing domestic abuse as one of the main reasons for fasakh. Nevertheless, I applaud these women for standing up – their courage will definitely inspire more victims of abuse to stand up and speak out against violence and mistreatment.
While it is clear that there are certain subjects such as marital rape which have not been clearly defined in Islam, and that victim blaming is uncomfortably pervasive in our society, a majority of survivors of violent abuse opt to remain mum for several reasons.
The ambiguity of our judicial system makes it extremely challenging for women to speak up, but we should never concur defeat and accept this broken system.
The Quran clearly indicates in Surah 30:21 that "Among His Signs is this, that he created for you mates from among yourselves, that they may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are signs for those who reflect”.
This verse reaffirms that marriage is about partnerships based on fairness, respect and mutual understanding.
Additionally, the national survey also highlights the negative impacts of polygamy.
Under the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territory) Act 1984, a husband is required to apply to court before taking another wife, in order to legally ensure that the husband will be able to provide financial and emotional support to his current and future families.
However, because of the existing loopholes and lack of enforcement, many of these men have chosen to disregard this regulation.
According to Telenisa, approximately 44 percent of first wives have had to take an additional job or work overtime to ensure financial stability after their husbands took on extra spouses. This clearly shows that the rights of wives and children are simply not taken into consideration.
I must reiterate that approval and consent in marriage is a prerequisite for the validity of marriages under Islam, and I must reaffirm that Islam does not condone injustice, exploitation of the family institution and the mistreatment of women and children.
While there has been a government-sanctioned move to empower syariah courts throughout the country, the issues that are currently being championed and the methods employed may do very little in terms of strengthening family institutions.
The recent amendments made in Kelantan to allow public caning in designated areas within the PAS-led state is evidence of how certain decision-makers favour punishment over preventive measures and are not concerned enough with finding sound solutions.
Historically, these institutions have conveniently placed the onus on women when marital breakdowns occur and blame us for the spread of social ills in our country.
Furthermore, the same institutions have also failed to address valid issues such as domestic violence; protecting children caught in between child custody cases or in abusive families; failure to uphold partial polygamous relationships; incest; and child marriages.
The direction which Malaysia is heading in is a valid cause for concern for any sound-minded Malaysian, irrespective of religious beliefs, but more so for Muslim women and children caught in the middle of this overzealous tug-of-war.
If the government is serious about upholding the sanctity of family institutions and human rights in accordance with Islam, these institutions must prioritise and diligently address issues concerning women and children. Above all, they must exercise impartiality and sound moral judgment when dealing with such cases.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID is DAP Wanita national assistant publicity secretary, Penang DAP assistant publicity secretary, Penang DAP Wanita political education director and Penang Island City Council (MBPP) councillor.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.